Christian Jealousy (September 30, 2018)
Numbers 11:16, 24-29
There’s something I love that I’m finally able to do once again. Now that school is back in session atop a hill in Mequon, Wisconsin, I finally get to watch the Seminary chapel services once again. It’s funny how sometimes it really takes some distance to truly appreciate something. When I attended Seminary, it’s not that I didn’t like going to chapel, but at times it just became routine. Now, however, I really look forward to the opportunity to be able to sing hymns with others during my morning devotion and listen to someone else preach! And don’t worry, I won’t be offended if you say you also enjoy hearing a different voice from time to time. Something new can be quite refreshing from time to time.
However, there’s something that happens at least once while I am listening to another person give a devotion, especially when they preach on a section of the Bible that I’ve just preached on. I find myself get jealous, thinking, “Wow, this speaker just has a way with words that I wish I had.” Or “Oh, why didn’t I think of that application!” I hear the great points in their devotions, and rather than simply listening, taking it to heart, and praising God that his word was brought to me and many others in such a way; sadly, my first thoughts are often jealousy, and wishing I had those gifts.
I know some of you are teachers. Maybe you do peer reviews, or lesson planning with others. Do you sometimes fall into these same traps? Students, I know I have often competed with classmates for better grades on tests and essays. In fact, I think in any employment and even in things we do for enjoyment, we often get competitive and become jealous of the gifts of others or the way things turn out. Sometimes we can just be really hard to please.
When you get down to it, jealousy really stems from discontentment. And once that seed of discontentment is planted, it can easily follow a rough, downward spiral. For example, the reading for today gives us a look at what it was like to be living in the wilderness as you follow God through his servant Moses to a new land and a new home. These Israelites had seen God’s wonders displayed when he sent 10 plagues before delivering Israel from Egypt. And when their escape seemed in vain because they were caught between a vast sea and the powerful army of a mighty nation, God provided them a way to cross the sea on dry ground, even holding up an entire army before destroying it in the sea. When the Israelites were hungry, God provided mana. When they were thirsty, he provided water from a rock. Even when they grew tired of the same old food, he provided them with meat to eat. But the discontentment, the grumbling and complaining still didn’t stop. Last week we heard about a time when Aaron and Miriam, who were like Moses’ right and left hand, they rebelled against Moses out of jealousy. Finally, Moses had enough. “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me” he said (Nu 11:14).
The Lord answered this prayer by having Moses appoint 70 elders who are known as leaders and officials among the people. They were to share the burden of the people with Moses so that he would not have to carry it alone. Yet, as the elders were standing before the tent of the Lord, once again the Israelites grew jealous. Two of the elders, you see, did not go to the assembly. They remained in the camp. We aren’t told why. Perhaps they had some duty to take care of. Perhaps they just didn’t want to go. But God, in his wisdom decided to bless these two men, along with the rest of the 70 elders with the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that was on Moses. And as a sign of God’s approval, the 70 elders, whether at the assembly or not, were able to prophesy for a short time.
Obviously, this caused quite a commotion because news quickly reached Moses. “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” a young man reported (Nu 11:27). “Moses, my lord, stop them!” Joshua insisted (Nu 11:28). Why? Why stop this great thing? Why stop something that God is clearly working through? Yet, this same thought of jealousy can be heard echoing throughout history. You can hear it echo in the disciples’ report in the gospel reading, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (Mk 9:38). You can hear it echo even in your own thoughts, and my own words. “Why couldn’t I have thought of that perfect application in my sermon?” “Why does that other church always have so many attending their events?” “Why does this person or group get so much attention when we are sharing the gospel too?”
It all stems from discontentment and jealousy. I want to be great. I want recognition. Really, it’s no different than the sinful nature finding satisfaction in earning my own salvation. Look how I can keep God’s commands! Look how I can shine before God. Yet, because we know that is wrong, because we know that salvation comes from Christ alone, our sinful nature has to find another way to rear its ugly head. So, rather than earning my own salvation, it all about jealousy, it becomes all about others being saved by Christ through me!
The readings today talk specifically about jealousy and envy in ministry, but you know if affects every other part of life as well. I see a parking lot full of cars and I begin to pick out which ones I wish I had. I learn more about you and I wish I had your amount of free time, or your position at work, or your perfect relationships with others. This jealousy feeds our discontentment, and discontentment feeds jealousy, until we are on a rough, downward spiral and not appreciating any of the blessings God has given us. Every good gift is from God, remember? And you are confessing this truth every time you say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth”. You learned what this means. “I believe that God created me and all that exists, and that he gave me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my mind and all my abilities.” Does this sound familiar? “And I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all I own… All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise him.” Does jealousy or envy show that you believe this? Isn’t discontentment concerning anything really showing discontentment with God? Isn’t it saying that I deserve more and others deserve less?
God has blessed you beyond measure. Take another look at all that you do have and consider, what if God didn’t give me this. Contentment isn’t having everything you want, it’s wanting what you already have! Now as you are thinking about all the things you have been blessed with – yes, things, but also your abilities, your life and livelihood, and everything else – consider what Christ rightly deserved, but gave up so he could have you. A life free from the emotional pain of friends who would betray him, accusers who would crucify him. A courtyard of soldiers mocking him and shaking their fists rather than halls of angels praising his glorious name. “[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be held on to; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Php 2:6-8). Jesus did all of this because you are his most important treasure. A life with you is what he wanted more than anything else.
Now that we have seen how God condemns jealousy, I want to show you a kind of jealousy that God actually commends! If you want to be jealous, grow in “Christian Jealousy”! And it’s actually quite interesting, you only need to change one letter to know what I am talking about. Not being jealous, but zealous! It’s one of those words we don’t use very often, but it really puts a positive spin on jealousy. Jealousy is seeking self-importance or wanting something for myself. Zealous is wanting something for someone else, wanting their honor. So “Christian Jealousy” is really being zealous for Christ. And here’s what it looks like:
It’s a man, who has been given the high honor of delivering an oppressed nation from their oppressors, given the ability to do great and wondrous things, even chosen of all the prophets there ever were to see God face to face – and yet, when God decides that he share some of this honor with others he says, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Nu 11:29). Of course, I’m talking about Moses. It’s a man who has been called the second Elijah! A man who had a large following of his own as he proclaimed God’s message of repentance, for the kingdom of heaven is near. A man who was given the distinct honor of baptizing the Christ – the anointed one of God. And yet, when John’s own disciples were jealous for him, informing that many are now going to Jesus instead, John said, “He must become greater; I must become less” (Jn 3:30). It’s a man who received a special visit from Jesus after he ascended into heaven, to appoint him as an apostle. A man who had great wisdom and spoke very persuasively. A man who could be credited with starting a vast number of the New Testament churches and spreading the message of the gospel far and wide. And yet, he humbly says, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle… But by the grace of God I am what I am… Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (1 Cor 15:9-11). That was the apostle Paul.
“Christian jealousy,” zeal for Christ, seeks to honor and glorify the Lord for all that he is and gives and does. Rather than being a body divided against itself, we are united by a common message and a common Lord. Jesus himself said, “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk 9:40). In fact, when God took from the Spirit that was on Moses and gave it to the 70 elders, it didn’t at all diminish the gift of the Spirit that Moses had. Rather, it was multiplied 70 fold. Just like lighting candles with a match doesn’t diminish the flame, but makes it grow brighter and stronger.
I don’t own the gospel, neither do you. It’s God’s powerful message which we get the distinct honor and privilege of sharing! And you know what’s really amazing? When we seek to honor God more and more every day with “Christian jealousy,” he heaps honor right back on us. Listen to how God honors those who seek to honor him: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose their reward” (Mk 9:41). And, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isa 52:7).